March 31, 2009

"Adventureland"

Here's the opening of my review from The American Conservative of the film opening this Friday:
Mid-20th Century American writers competed on their dust flaps to list the most jobs held. The more proletarian occupations an author enumerated, such as short order cook, hod carrier, and lobsterman, the more legitimate was his assault on the Great American Novel.

Today, however, a generation of the well-educated has grown up assuming “there are jobs Americans just won’t do.” “Adventureland,” a witty, nostalgic love story is set in the summer of 1987, about the time when tuition started being inflated so high by competitive elitism and unskilled wages pounded so low by illegal immigration that “summer job” was increasingly replaced in the upper middle class vocabulary by “unpaid internship.” (By now, a few parents are paying fashionable employers to let their kids make photocopies and fetch coffee.)

A new Oberlin graduate, James Brennan, has his costly Eurail Pass backpack tour canceled by his parents because his alcoholic father’s executive career is wobbling. Suddenly needing a summer job to pay for tuition in the fall at the Columbia Journalism School, he finds that a resume featuring his SAT scores and his Renaissance Studies major doesn’t compensate for his lack of any work experience. Nobody in Greater Pittsburgh, it turns out, needs a fresco restored. He winds up at the employer of last resort, the Adventureland amusement park.

Writer-director Greg Mottola, who helmed 2007’s comedy hit “Superbad,” explains the origin of his quasi-autobiographical film with an ingenuous snobbishness that would have annoyed and amused John Steinbeck. “I was talking with a bunch of writer friends, and I was telling them these embarrassing stories about a summer in the ‘80s that I spent as a carnie working at an amusement park … It was the worst job I’ve ever had… I should have had a good job—I should have been a tutor or gone to Manhattan and been an intern at a magazine or something respectable ...”

Please note that Mottola isn’t, personally, a jerk. Judging from “Adventureland,” he’s an insightful yet gentle observer. That’s just the way people think nowadays.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

Or maybe people nowadays are far more likely to be jerks.

Anonymous said...

You mentioned "great American novel" in this post, which got me to thinking about:


(From Wikipedia)

"........In early 2008 it was announced that Wolfe left his longtime publisher Farrar, Strauss. His fourth novel, Back to Blood is set to be published in 2009 by Little, Brown. According to The New York Times Wolfe will be paid close to US$7 million for the book.[14] According to the publisher, Back to Blood will be about "class, family, wealth, race, crime, sex, corruption and ambition in Miami, the city where America's future has arrived first."


That will be a novel full of Steve Sailer themes, and one Im excited to read. I cannot believe "I Am Charlotte Simmons" didn't sell as well as "A Man In Full" BTW. I loved it....

Peter said...

Mottola is right too. In high school and college I worked as a bag boy at a supermarket, busboy, frycook at Friendly's and at UPS unloading trucks. You can romanticize menial crap jobs like those all you want, but all those jobs taught me nothing useful other than pity for people who have no choice but to work at jobs like those. Yes, I had to learn "discipline" but I could, and did, get that lesson elsewhere. I too would have traded those opportunities in a heartbeat for an internship at a Mahattan publishing house or a summer in El Salvador building houses. Maybe it's bad for society that the upper middle class separates itself in this way, but no reasonable individual should ever choose unskilled minimum wage job over a worthwhile internship. Are you going to encourage your son to flip burgers at Mickey D's Steve?

Benn said...

I take it he is not trying for irony. Compare his comment to Mencken's ideas. Writers without experience in life's rough and tumble out west wrote weak prose. Or Homer's, that Odysseus body was strongly muscled, frightening the suitors, from bravely being "on the front lines of life." Or Solzhenitsyn or many others. Callow insecurity is a national disease these days.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Steve Sailer: my review from The American Conservative of the film opening this Friday

Well, since it's only Tuesday, does that mean you were invited to a pre-screening for professional critics?

What did you do, wear a fake name-badge and a Groucho Marx disguise?

You're lucky you didn't get lynched.

Vernunft said...

"a resume featuring his SAT scores"

I would promptly throw such a resume in the garbage.

StephenT said...

It was around the early 1980s that I noticed entry-level manual labor was no longer considered a source of youthful dues-paying, oat-sowing pride, complete with colorful stories of eccentric bosses and encounters with working-class girls quite unlike the ones you met in your high school home room. Instead, that sort of work had become -- per Greg Mottola and his “writer friends” -- “embarrassing.” The attitude is well-represented by Karl Rove, of the pale, pudgy face and Pillsbury doughboy physique, who remarked with dread that America needed tens of millions of illegal mestizo Mexicans “so my kids will never have to make beds or pick tomatoes.” The horror of it.

I supported myself in my early 20s via that level of employment, even during the 10% unemployment of the 1982 recession, when, due to the absence of an illegal alien employment pool, such jobs were still plentiful for non-embarrassed Americans. After we ceded them to Mexico, however, I always wondered what would happen if/when we ever needed those gigs BACK again. Today on NPR I found out. An unemployed 40-something O.C. professional about to lose his house was interviewed and expressed shock and indignation at the fact that even $8 and $10 an hour jobs, the kind he “never would have considered in the past” (too embarrassing) were now nowhere to be found! How could it be? Of course, those kinds of jobs are still there even during a recession, every bit as much as they were for me in 1982, but they are now permanently occupied by Mexican nationals and no longer available to needy Americans, or to Karl Rove’s kids.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you reviewing this one. Motolla's a really good director, and it's nice that he's using the box office cred he built with Superbad to do something more like his excellent, little-seen "The Daytrippers."

Bill said...

One of the problems now is that traditional "young man jobs" have been replaced at the highest rate. When I was in high school and working as a carpenter's assistant during summer vacation, another one of the workers was a guy in his late 20s who was in grad school. That was in the early 90s in Seattle.

Today, those jobs have been so thoroughly Mexicanized that nobody tries anymore, unless carpentry or plumbing or whatever is their intended career.

What remains is service jobs that aren't really a good fit for your typical male. Waiting tables, for example, makes good money, but women are better at that (they have better social skills and short-term memory), and restaurants have become totally Mexican in the kitchen.

Also, the fact that real wages have plummeted even as tuition has skyrocketed exacerbates things. What's the sense in working these jobs if they will damage your prospects on the one hand, and barely allow you to survive on the other?

For young ethnic American men there really are no guarantees anymore. Probably the best bet a talented young guy has is to cast his lot in with a business of some sort. We are increasingly becoming a nation of mandarins and peons, and the only way around that is trade/business. This is how men from humble origins survived and prospered in mature civilizations such as Mediterranean Europe and China.

michael farris said...

A tired point, but one I'll make: Everybody knows that work is devalued in a slave or feudal society. It seems that in a society that depends on new immigrants the same sort of thing happens.

SWPL in favor of wage-slavery, who'd've thunk it?

Reg C├Žsar said...

...the time when tuition started being inflated...

To be exact, tuition fees were inflated; actual tuition-- that is, instruction-- was noticeably deflated.

Suddenly needing a summer job to pay for tuition...

Exactly. You don't "pay tuition", you "pay for tuition.

Whether you get any in return is another story...

Anonymous said...

So in 1987 he was about to enter journalism school in Columbia? Maybe they can make a sequel set today where he's back to applying at the amusement park!

Peter said...

I think we should make a distinction between manual labor that teaches you something and builds the body - carpentry, roofing, construction, farm work, moving furniture, some factory work - and unskilled labor that is essentially feminizing - grocery store clerk, restaurant work, any retail work. These latter jobs will not give you the "rough and tumble" experience Benn's talking about, and I think a hoity-toity internship is certainly no worse for a man's character than those jobs.

Carl said...

Bill,

Great comment, and very closely mirrors my life experience thusfar (mid-20's). I just finished last year 5 years at a fairly good Midwestern, urban parochial university getting a BA and MS. I'll be in debt probably the rest of my life for, at least in terms of the BA, a pointless degree.

Beyond some simple campus jobs (getting a miniscule fraction of my and my fellow students tuition back), very few students get jobs because the cost opportunity of earning $7/hr for 15 hours a week doesn't really do a lot when you're paying $30k in tuition and $10k in room/board.

Acilius said...

I have to say that Peter is onto something.

When the people in charge decide that manual labor is for losers, they treat manual laborers like losers. If you find yourself in a position where you allow yourself to be treated like a loser, you don't have to be a jerk to be embarrassed. If you are accepting that treatment while others whose background and abilities are comparable to yours are treated with respect, then you aren't a man at all unless you are embarrassed, and more than embarrassed.

Anonymous said...

I am fortunate enough to be upper middle class. My kids go to good schools (one public one private). There is a definate phenomenon nowadays where children's only responsibility is school. They study. That's it.

The whole point of atheletics, arts and the like in school is / was to produce well balanced people who would be ready to take leadership roles.

I am afraid that we are producing a generation of technocratic students that will have only one skill in their tool box in an ever changing world.

Mr. Anon said...

"Peter said...

You can romanticize menial crap jobs like those all you want, but all those jobs taught me nothing useful other than pity for people who have no choice but to work at jobs like those."

Is that not, in and of itself, a lesson worth learning?

rast said...

StephenT ...[he] expressed shock and indignation at the fact that even $8 and $10 an hour jobs, the kind he “never would have considered in the past” (too embarrassing) were now nowhere to be found! How could it be? Of course, those kinds of jobs are still there even during a recession, every bit as much as they were for me in 1982, but they are now permanently occupied by Mexican nationals

Also, $10 in 1982 bought about twice as much food as it does these days.

Anonymous said...

Peter,

Given our druthers, we'd ALL rather be paid to lecture upper class youth on European history or have a hip, new-collar internship at a large company. Nobody's criticising that desire in particular. The point you miss is that a college student taking a menial job is something that is now LOOKED DOWN UPON: an embarassing gaffe, something only schleps with middle-aged failures for fathers have to do. Does that sort of attitude strike you as repulsive? It does me.

--Senor Doug

Tom Vu said...

Sometime in the past decade I went with a buddy, notebook in hand, to some event in L.A. about millionaires - talks from them about how to become one. My sole reason in attending was as sociological observer, and I took copious notes and got a lot of good laughs watching the proles rush forward at every opportunity, credit cards at the ready to buy either software that would enable them to beat the market or some get-rich-quick real estate packages or some CDs that they could play at night to subliminally "train" them to have a "positive attitude".

Toward the end of the event, one of the motivational speakers explained how, during his senior year in high school, his father up in Buffalo took him to his job at the steel foundry. See, the speaker had been debating whether or not to go to college post-graduation, and the old man had concocted a plan previously seen only in movies of the week. With dramatic flair the man described to the audience the heat and the sweat and the clanging and the enormous impact it all had on him. So he wisely decided to forego the job path of his dad and went away to some SUNY school, eventually ending up as...a motivational speaker. And I wrote in my notebook, "What does a modern nation need more, steel workers or professional talkers peddling books?"

This was around the time of much historical research in my life. When I finally found a single society in modern history that had set out to heal the rift between "hand" and "mind" workers, attempting to enoble the actual act of work itself, I was shocked. Here was a place that had analyzed history and thought things out. Unfortunately, acknowleding anything forward-thinking or admirable about that society made me a hater. So there it ended.

rrrrrroger said...

Boy am I glad I don't know Peter.

Peter said...

I am afraid that we are producing a generation of technocratic students that will have only one skill in their tool box in an ever changing world.

Right. You'll produce Matthew Yglesias.

Rich Flisges said...

"Given our druthers, we'd ALL rather be paid to lecture upper class youth on European history or have a hip, new-collar internship at a large company."

No. Some of us would prefer to farm, to do carpentry, or to work on fishing boats, without dealing with the social condescension that comes from SWPL tools working in advertising or journalism, or having the fruits of our labor sucked away by the various financial kings Sailer often posts about.

Who will be the "heart" between the "head" and the "hands" – that's what Fritz Lang asked in Metropolis. That same volatile social division was, roughly, what Menenius Agrippa addressed and was trying to remedy in Rome 2,500 years ago. America, however, taking its cue from old Albion, has never truly cared about the base of the pyramid - "If yer so smart, why ain't you rich?" There simply never were university students here rushing en masse to work with their racial brethren in mines and fields as there were in Germany in the 20s - our nearest equivalent is having suburban girls teach in the ghetto.
Unfortunately, now that some of us have noticed what this all means for the future, it's too late.

Benn's line here about "callow insecurity" being a national disease is right on the money. He forgot to mention that it's terminal.

Anonymous said...

In 1987, a job at Adventureland could easily get you PUNK ROCK GIRLS.

But all this guy could think of doing in Manhattan was an internship?

In 1987?

There is something seriously wrong with this person.

Mark said...

Are you going to encourage your son to flip burgers at Mickey D's Steve?

If someone would rather work an unpaid internship than at Mickey D's or painting houses or whatever that's fine. But there should at least be an economic trade-off involved. Forcing high school/college students to compete with uneducated immigrants often means that there won't be.

We have now made economic decisions in this country that reward people who choose not to work these jobs. Kids/parents who make too much don't qualify for Pell Grants or student aid. Clearly we'd rather they graduate on the taxpayer's dime, heavily in debt, 20 pounds overweight, and without a shred of work experience, especially not the kind knowing what it feels like to be on the other side.

Keep in mind that our geniuses in Congress, led by Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch, those arbiters of bad ideas, have just determined to spend $6 billion more of your loot to make sure that no aspiring little Mottola's ever have to work such degrading jobs again.

Matt G. said...

I grew up in a working class home and didn't have any connections, so from age 15-25 I worked jobs such as: dishwasher, line cook, factory worker, warehouse worker, fast-food worker, pizza delivery, and cab driver. Looking back on it I wouldn't trade those experiences for cushy internships or the like. Those jobs taught me alot about people and human nature. They made me want to work that much harder in school. Even though I've moved on to more "respectable" work, Mickey D's is still the toughest most stressfull job I've ever had.
The upper-middle class in this country has a lot of disdain for the working poor. This is manifested in the lax attitude toward low skill hispanic immigration since the upper middle class assumes it doesn't affect them. Obama for all his talk of a rags to riches bio hasn't done any manual labor that I'm aware of. The lack of having to work such jobs may explain why the young males of today seem so effeminate.

Lugash said...

I am Lugash.

You can romanticize menial crap jobs like those all you want, but all those jobs taught me nothing useful other than pity for people who have no choice but to work at jobs like those. Yes, I had to learn "discipline" but I could, and did, get that lesson elsewhere. I too would have traded those opportunities in a heartbeat for an internship at a Mahattan publishing house or a summer in El Salvador building houses.

Spot on. There are other "less good" reasons as well. What 18-25 year old wants to wake up at 0 dark 30 and do manual labor? The pay sucks, there is no prestige, the work is hard, your bosses are generally uptight guys who expect you to work continuously and you can't meet any girls at a job like that.

Better, or easier, to take the internship. But beware the student loan tar pit.

I am Lugash.

Bill said...

The sad thing is that getting the instructions right made a big difference in how well a lot of these currently Mexicanized jobs were done.

When working in carpentry, I had to compute angles, make sure every post was absolutely plumb, and lay pipes according to detailed instructions. I also had to make cuts and use tools with both standard and metric measurements (most people don't realize that the standard measurements are foreign to Mexican immigrants, and this is quite important). I also had to use machines that were very dangerous and required reading and/or detailed instruction to avoid serious accidents. If I hadn't had a pro breathing down my neck and telling me in fairly complex English how to do this it simply wouldn't have been done right.

Somehow, I doubt that Mexican laborers are so thorough about things. In fact, it is probably beyond their comprehension to carry out a lot of the tasks that were assigned to me. Without the new modular homes, they would have been more expensive due to mistakes than marginally higher paid Anglos.

The new construction trends, which emphasize snap-together houses, were developed with these kinds of laborers in mind. This is why a "new" house is probably a poor investment anyway, and even further emphasizes the insanity of the housing bubble.

Acilius said...

Bill wrote: "The new construction trends, which emphasize snap-together houses, were developed with these kinds of laborers in mind."

That's a great point. If business leaders have contempt for manual laborers, they will design manual jobs so that contemptible people can do them.

jody said...

is this movie set in kennywood park in pittsburgh?

it's one of the best amusements parks in any large city. growing up in pittsburgh, it was odd to live in other, bigger cities and not have an amusement park right in town. i thought it would be normal for every big city to have it's own park, but it turns out it's not.

kennywood is very similar to knott's berry farm in LA. except kennywood is a lot better. it's no cedar point, but then again, everybody has to drive hours to get to cedar point, because it's not in a city.

Ronduck said...

Bill said...

...Waiting tables, for example, makes good money, but women are better at that (they have better social skills and short-term memory), and restaurants have become totally Mexican in the kitchen.

A friend of mine went to U of A in Tucson Arizona. She said quite a few of the girls that she knew were stripping to get through college. However, it came back to bite them in the ass in the end since they couldn't list such an occupation on their resumes. She said that when they went to employers they had a black hole on their resumes where they should have had some work experience.

Bill again...

The new construction trends, which emphasize snap-together houses, were developed with these kinds of laborers in mind. This is why a "new" house is probably a poor investment anyway, and even further emphasizes the insanity of the housing bubble.

My 11th grade English teacher states that her husband, a carpenter, went into a tract house here in the valley that had a room that was supposed to be square and instead had one wall that was 11 inches longer than the opposing wall.

Anonymous said...

Obama for all his talk of a rags to riches bio hasn't done any manual labor that I'm aware of.

You've read his books, Steve. Is that true? I strongly suspect it is.

I too would have traded those opportunities in a heartbeat for an internship at a Mahattan publishing house or a summer in El Salvador building houses.

I love that: build houses in El Salvador as a "volunteer" - good; build houses in the United States for a job - bad. What's the difference, except that for some idiotic reason the former looks better on the resume than the latter.

Steve Sailer said...

Right, Kennywood Park. It was the only well-maintained old amusement park the filmmakers found that hadn't been redone with trademarked cartoon characters.

Steve Sailer said...

Obama had some sort of summer job in construction in New York City.

Steve Sailer said...

I think Obama might also have had burger-flipping type jobs in high school in Hawaii.

Anonymous said...

However, it came back to bite them in the ass in the end since they couldn't list such an occupation on their resumes.

Yeah, because no man wants to hire a girl who's willing to strip for money. Right!

Top of the list, honey. Do you still have your pole?

Anonymous said...

I work in the industry and I can assure everyone that residential construction is now done to extremely low quality standards. Most houses built in the last 10 years will being falling apart shortly.

Anonymous said...

"A friend of mine went to U of A in Tucson Arizona. She said quite a few of the girls that she knew were stripping to get through college."

I'd bet there are huge regional disparities in how much of that goes on. All the strippers in the Northeast US are immigrants from Brazil or Eastern Europe.

Darwin's Sh*tlist said...

Re: teens & work in film.

Compare Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) with American Pie (1999). In Fast Times, nearly everyone has a job. The only characters who don't are Spicoli and his slacker buddies and star athlete Charles Jefferson. Jobs are a source of status and identity.

In American Pie, if I recall, none of the kids had jobs. All of their afternoons were spent on extracurricular actities (lacrosse, glee club, band). The world of work might as well be in Tierra del Fuego.

Ronduck said...

Anonymous said...

I'd bet there are huge regional disparities in how much of that goes on. All the strippers in the Northeast US are immigrants from Brazil or Eastern Europe.

Are you sure the northeast is part of America? I live in the Phoenix metro area about 200 miles from the Mexican border. It's been a few years since I've been to a strip club here in the Phoenix metro area, but none of the strippers had accents and quite a few were White.

Anonymous said...

I can remember back in the 70's when an working class kid could get a job in the summer as a construction laborer and make the unheard of sum of $10 or 12. an hour. Which was enough to pay for tuition and books at the local state college, if he lived at home. And a little left over for pocket money during the school year.

Now, 40 years later, the hourly wage for a construction laborer is STILL $10-12 an hour, and tuition has gone from $700 per semester to $2000 per semester---or more. And of course, no-one wants to hire a wroking class kid when he has as many adult immmigrants to choose from, who are willing to work ALL year long for the $10-12 an hour.

You are also right about the unpaid internships...I'm watching a lot of surburban kids whose parents still think they can get a part-time job to pay for their spending money---falling all over themselves for a job in the local Microcenter, who pays THEIR employees $4.00 an hour plus 1.5% of everything they can put their commission sticker on.

Ronduck said...

anonymous said...

You are also right about the unpaid internships...I'm watching a lot of surburban kids whose parents still think they can get a part-time job to pay for their spending money---falling all over themselves for a job in the local Microcenter, who pays THEIR employees $4.00 an hour plus 1.5% of everything they can put their commission sticker on.

That's amazing. I know Wal-Mart locally starts people at $8/hour, so those kids are getting screwed.